Plant a Pomegranate in Spring
The beautiful red fruit of the pomegranate (Pumica granatum) has increased in popularity as our culinary tastes have become more diverse and inclusive of Middle Eastern and North African dishes over recent years. Pomegranates are not cheap so why not plant a tree which will give you glossy green leaves, turning to mellow tones in autumn, pretty red flowers attractive to honey eaters, plus tart, ruby seeds and refreshing tangy juice.
Top tips for growing pomegranate in Melbourne
- Plant in spring
- Plant in the hottest part of the garden
- Deep water regularly in establishing phase
- Prune lightly
Position and Soil when growing pomegranate
Pomegranate should be planted in the hottest part of the garden. In Melbourne’s climate the trees need maximum sun exposure for the fruit to fully ripen. They prefer slightly acidic, well drained soil but will grow in a range of soils including poor and heavy ones.
Planting pomegranate in the garden
Dig a hole twice as wide as the tree and to the same depth as the root ball. Tease out the roots. Place into the hole and backfill with soil. Water well. One is generally enough for a garden but if planting two, separate them by 5 metres or more. If growing as a hedge, plant them 2-3 metres apart. Trees will attain a height of 5 -7 metres and are often 5m wide, especially if neglected over a number of years and have not undergone pruning of suckers and thinning in the crown. The tree will take 3 years to fruit.
Planting pomegranate in a pot
‘Nana’ is a dwarf pomegranate variety suitable for a pot. The pot needs to be at least 40cm in diameter. It will grow to 1m in height. Place it in the sunniest spot in the garden.
In the first 6 months water deeply 2-3 times a week depending on how hot it is. After that, water once deeply each week. Having said that, I know of a huge tree that is over 100 years old that is never watered except by rain and it produces prolifically each year. Presumably its roots are deep enough to draw water from deep beneath the surface.
Fertilising and mulching pomegranate
Fertilise with compost or well rotted manure in the spring. Mulch around the tree, keeping clear of the trunk, with any type of mulch to help retain moisture in the ground. Wood chip works well.
Pests that affect pomegranates
Pests rarely affect pomegranates making them easy to maintain. However, despite their leathery skins, they are subject to Queensland Fruit Fly which has arrived in NE Melbourne in the last few years. Pomegranates are difficult to net because of their sharp spikes so I recommend spraying the fruit with kaolin clay, or using large net sleeves over individual fruit. If using kaolin be sure to spray all sides of the fruit. Kaolin washes off easily in hot water. Use a scrubbing brush if any residue remains.
Establishment pruning: choose a tree that can be pruned to a main trunk with 4-5 branches coming off it to form the frame.
Yearly pruning: prune suckers from around the base whenever they appear as these sap the energy of the tree and reduce fruit production. Prune lightly in autumn after harvest and do not tip prune all branches as pomegranates produce on spurs on these tips as well as on spurs further along the branches. In winter remove any dead, diseased or damaged wood. Thin out wood that has borne fruit for several years to allow new branches to develop and also prune out thin, whippy branches. Thin fruit, if crowded, to increase the size of those remaining.
Pomegranates are harvested in autumn generally between March and May. There are several indications that they are ripe. The first is that the colour of the fruit deepens, the shiny skin turns matte and the shape changes from a ball shape to a slightly 6 sided configuration. The fruit will also begin to split and this indicates that all the fruit is ready for harvest. The fruit will store for months but be aware that any split fruit, fruit left too long on the tree or bruised fruit may develop a grey fungal rot. Use split fruit first. If you observe any fungal rot, remove that section. The rest will be fine.
Varieties of pomegranates
I recommend ‘Wonderful’ for garden planting. The pomegranates when fully ripe are large and their skin is a deep crimson. I find other varieties difficult to ripen in Melbourne’s climate. For pots, plant ‘nana’.
Technique for preparation and uses
People often complain about the difficulties of releasing the seeds from their capsule. I have not found banging half a pomegranate hard on a board successful (but wear an apron or a mackintosh if you do) or any other tips I have read about. A quick and easy way to remove the seeds is to cut across the pomegranate and use a small spoon or even a knife or fork to dig or scoop the seeds out of each segment. I do this over a bowl so that I retain the juice. It is important not to include any skin, pith or segment membrane as these are very bitter. By the same token, blitzing pomegranate seed for juice or molasses will produce a bitter aftertaste. A press however will work well as long as you avoid pressing down hard at the end and releasing the bitterness from the pith and membranes.
Juice is used for cold drinks including Grenadine cordial and for making pomegranate molasses of which there are plenty of recipes on the internet. Seeds are used to flavour and garnish Middle Eastern and Moroccan dishes, both savoury and sweet.
Reference: Louis Glowinski, The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia, Reprinted 2005, Lothian.
Written by Robin Gale-Baker